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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 September, 2003, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Directive 'fuels filling station decline'
Pump empty
Small filling stations are advised to diversify
Owners of many of the South West's smaller independent filling stations say they are facing closure because of a new European directive aimed at reducing pollution from petrol fumes.

They say the cost of implementing the new regulations is making it impossible to continue.

The Vapour Recovery System Directive is designed to stop petrol vapours from polluting the atmosphere and will apply to even the smallest of petrol stations.

European Commission spokesman Henning Arp said leaking petrol fumes affect people with heart conditions and asthma as well as damaging crops.

With the advent of hypermarkets and increased competition we have to look elsewhere for our profits
David Hollis

"Petrol vapours contribute to ozone formation which is a particularly difficult and hazardous form of air pollution," he said.

"When we looked at different options for reducing emissions this was one of the least costly ways of reducing emissions."

One filling station owner, John Ongaro, estimated it would cost tens of thousands of pounds to install the new underground reservoir and pipe work to satisfy the directive's demands.

He said the directive is the latest blow for small petrol stations, which have spent the last few years struggling in a hostile market place.

And he has now stopped selling petrol at his garage at St Just in Penwith in Cornwall and will concentrate on car sales and repairs and MOTs in the future.

"Such capital would never be justified," he said.

"I would never see a return on it. I would be selling petrol until I was 100 and even then I'd be paying back loans."

Mr Ongaro's MP, St Ives Liberal Democrat Andrew George, said independent petrol retailers in his constituency "had their backs against the wall".

"In the last five years especially they have been under particular pressure, especially as the supermarkets have moved into this area," he said.

Dwindling fuel profits

Both the AA and the Petrol Retailers' Association advise small independents to diversify and build other aspects of their business.

Dave Hollis has acted on that advice and built up a successful Spar shop, enabling him to supplement dwindling fuel profits at his South Hams petrol station.

"With the advent of hypermarkets and increased competition we have to look elsewhere for our profits," he said.

"We hope we've got our sums right and our position right and I hope that we'll survive. "

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